Centre College Professor of Spanish Mary Daniels has been named the 2015 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Kentucky Professor of the Year.
A faculty member at Centre since 1996, Dr. Daniels was honored Nov. 19 in Washington, D.C. at a luncheon and evening reception hosted by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), which administers the award.
Recipients are recognized for their extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching.
“My strength as a teacher is creating a community that embraces listening, encourages academic debate and promotes lively discourse. Life is not made up of discrete parts, nor do I want student thinking to be,” Daniels said.
“Synthesizing disparate pieces of information is a learned skill that has the power to influence their careers, their politics and their relationships.”
Daniels’ teaching interests include U.S.-Latino literature and border studies, as well as 17th-century Spanish literature. She is also active outside the classroom and off campus. A 3M Foundation grant in 2004 helped Daniels start a Hispanic community center in central Kentucky. In addition, Daniels teaches ESL classes at the North Point Training Facility, a medium-security prison in Boyle County.
Daniels has also led study abroad programs in Ecuador and Nicaragua. As part of a course called “Nicaragua After the Revolution,” Daniels and her students lived with residents of Ramón García, a rural community in the Nicaraguan countryside.
After returning to Danville, students raised money for scholarships so that their new friends could attend secondary school. “Imagine our delight,” Daniels said, “when we received report cards in the mail from all 18 of the town’s high school students—a vivid example of the power of paying it forward.”
Centre President John A. Roush strongly supported Daniels’ nomination, describing her as “an outstanding example of a college professor who exceeds all the criteria for excellence.” He also called her “an engaging, highly respected teacher, and an accomplished, active scholar dedicated to her college community.” Roush added that Daniels is “respected by her faculty colleagues on campus and beloved by our students.”
Jeri Howell, a senior Spanish and environmental studies double major from Frankfort, Ky., couldn’t agree more.
“Dr. Daniels lifts you up as a person and empowers you to be the best version of yourself, and she also helps you realize skills and capabilities you didn’t know you had,” Howell said. “She is very, very interested in helping students create and develop their own ideas, and also apply their learning in practical ways.”
Howell has experienced this first hand in several courses, most notably this past fall as a teaching assistant for a Spanish course taught by Daniels that had a community-based learning component.
“All the students completed service projects as part of the course,” she said, “working with members of the Hispanic communities in Boyle and Mercer counties. The experiences brought learning to life, and enriched the lives of others as well as our own.”
Colleagues offer similar praise.
Helen Emmitt, the J. Rice Cowan Professor of English, describes Daniels as “truly compelling,” though she qualifies this quality. “By ‘compelling’ I do not merely mean that she is ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining,’” Emmitt said. “She makes the classroom a place where every student is a valuable part of a group project of deeper reasoning about and understanding of whatever the topic may be.”
Steve Beaudoin, the Ewing T. Boles Professor of History, praises her approach to teaching as well. Recently selected as the first-ever faculty fellow for the Center for Teaching and Learning, Beaudoin was intrigued with Daniels’ interest in “desireable difficulties.”
“All too often,” Beaudoin said, “faculty search for ways to prevent discomfort among our students. Mary’s interest is in making students’ struggles more productive, for research indicates that early struggles lead to deeper learning.”
Dean of the College Stephanie Fabritius summed up Daniels’ contributions by saying, “she makes a profound difference in the lives of our students, and in all of us.”
Daniels earned her B.A. at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, completed an M.A. at the University of Wisconsin, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1998. At Centre, she has earned numerous distinctions, including being named a Centre Scholar and receiving the Kirk Award for Teaching Excellence.
As a scholar, Daniels co-authored A Concise Guide to Improving Student Learning: Six Evidence-Based Principles and How to Apply Them, and she is completing a book manuscript titled Unmasking the Women of the Spanish Golden Age Stage: A Study of Actresses and Autoras.
Daniels’ honor only strengthens Centre’s distinction as Kentucky’s leading college for Professor of the Year awards.
Mark Lucas, the Alfred P. and Katherine B. Jobson Professor of English, earned the award in 2013, and the year before that, Tom McCullough, the Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor of Religion, was named Kentucky Professor of the Year. Other Centre faulty to have earned this distinction include Ken Keffer, the H. W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of French and German (2010); Vince DiMartino, the W. George Matton Professor of Music Emeritus (2004); and Stephen Rolfe Powell, the H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Art (1999 and 2000).
by Michael Strysick, Director of Communications
November 19, 2015